Recycling and waste management

Information about Rights & Duties

Recycling and waste management

Conditions for the treatment of different types of waste and hazardous waste generated through professional and commercial activities

The German Circular Economy Act (Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz) introduced new legal principles with its five-level waste hierarchy. It stipulates that, in order of priority, waste is to be prevented, prepared for reuse, recycled, subject to other recovery, in particular recovery of energy or finally disposed of. As a rule, the hierarchy applies to all types of waste. However, clarification was required for certain waste streams by means of sub-legislative regulations in order to ensure legal certainty and investment security. This was ensured by the new German Commercial Waste Ordinance (Gewerbeabfallverordnung - GewAbfV) which came into force in 2017.

The GewAbfV governs the management of commercial municipal waste and certain types of construction and demolition waste in such a way that these are to be collected separately according to waste stream and prioritised for preparation for reuse and recycling. If a producer collects 90% of its commercial waste separately and sends it for recycling, the remaining 10% can be thermally recovered or disposed of without further pre-treatment. Otherwise, mixed waste that has not been kept separate must undergo pre-treatment, during which a sorting rate of 85% and a recycling rate of 30% must be achieved. The sorting plants must possess mandatory components in this regard or must operate in combination with other sorting plants to ensure that the required plant technology is available to all. Mineral waste must be sent for processing with a view to achieving the highest possible quality of recycling for this waste.

The enforcement of the GewAbfV falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the regional governments.

Electrical and electronic scrap

The EU legal basis for the disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is Directive 2012/19/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on waste electrical and electronic equipment, known as the WEEE Directive. In Germany, the WEEE Directive was transposed into national law by the Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (Elektro- und Elektronikgerätegesetz).

The WEEE Directive sets out requirements for the disposal of WEEE. Its fundamental principle is producer responsibility. According to that principle, producers take responsibility for the management of waste associated with their products throughout the entire lifetime of those products.

Responsibilities in this regard include ensuring that:

  • companies producing electrical and electronic equipment ensure the treatment and recycling of WEEE collected or returned
  • when producers place a new device on the market, they enter into a guarantee that they will finance its subsequent environmentally sound disposal
  • distributors take back WEEE from private households under certain conditions
  • producers and publicly owned waste management companies are obliged to inform private households of waste prevention measures, as well as the obligation to collect waste electrical equipment separately
  • the goals set out in the Directive for collection and recycling are met

WEEE is to be collected separately from general waste in accordance with the requirements set out in the Directive. The return of waste equipment must be free of charge for consumers. Appropriate collection systems must be set up in line with the demographic concentration. The obligation for distributors to take back waste equipment can be addressed to distributors covering a particular sales area for electrical equipment as well as to certain food distributors. Producers must comply with special labelling requirements. For example, all electrical and electronic equipment that falls within the scope of the Directive must be labelled with the crossed-out wheeled bin symbol. Consumers are to be informed of the meaning of the symbol upon their receipt of the device. In addition, the Directive sets out technical requirements for the storage and treatment of waste equipment and specifies minimum requirements in this regard. The requirements for the treatment of the collected equipment are based on the German Regulation on requirements for the treatment of waste electrical and electronic equipment

Responsible for the content
German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection

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